For the month of November, parents and students have the challenging project of deciding exactly which schools to apply to, and then get those applications submitted. When you look at websites, you will see that many colleges and universities have applications deadlines in February or March…so why the hurry? For the simple reason that each school has scholarship monies to award, and the sooner you apply, the lower the chance that the money will already be gone. Free money is given away to those who apply sooner, so sooner is best.
As you apply to a school, apply at the same time for any scholarships you are eligible for. Once the school processes your application, you will get a letter telling you that you have been accepted. After that, you will receive a Financial Aid Award Letter. This will inform you about exactly what kinds of aid that particular school is offering. Aid can come in the form of grants, scholarships, work study or loans. Be sure to do your homework before accepting a loan, as they are NOT all created equally. A great resource for loan information is: www.saltmoney.org
Some schools have a list of scholarships right there for you to see. Others only reveal their scholarships after you have been accepted. Either way, if it is a school you are seriously interested in attending, APPLY for their scholarships. Please consider both a public school and a private, as well as both in-state and out-of-state. IF you are aiming for Career (AKA Trade) School, look at both stand-alone schools, and programs at community colleges.
If your FAFSA is not yet completed, you are not too late, but get that done ASAP. If you need help figuring your FAFSA out, remember they have a 1-800 number for help which WILL be answered by an English Speaking HUMAN, not a computer (1-800-433-3243). You can also take your information to your local community FAFSA resource geniuses: The Financial Aid Office of your local Community College.
At this point, it is very helpful if a student has a clear idea of exactly what they to study, in order to choose the best-fit school. If you are still unsure of what your major is going to be, PLEASE consider your first educational step to be a community college for general classes. Community Colleges are far more affordable than a four-year university. Or consider taking a certificate program at a community college: with just a few months to a year of study, you can enter a field which will pay well enough to afford rent and food. The experience of working a job often helps you figure out what you appreciate in a job, and gives some focus in your search for your next educational decisions.
Working with 17-18 year old students, I realize the tremendous pressure this process places on them to figure things out. The financial aspects of education are daunting at best. Do NOT try to figure out what you want to do “When you grow up”. That is too big, and unrealistic for most kids not yet out of high school. Just consider what to do FIRST after graduating. Do you really want to spread your wings and move to a dorm or apartment? Are you more interested in getting into college and living at home isn’t an issue? What jobs sound like something you would be good at?
I don’t ask students to find their passion. Passion is tricky. You can be passionate about Medieval French Poetry, but that won’t lead to ANY jobs. I ask them to think about their strengths, and things they do WELL. I wish we could all have jobs that have us leaping out of bed with joy, singing our way through our work and radiating happiness to all we meet as we follow our passion. No one has that job. Rather, I ask them to think of a job they could feel really great about on a day they would rather be at the beach…because doing a job well, and the feelings of pride that go with a job well done lead to job satisfaction, and yes, even passion.
A word about taking a “gap year”. It sounds really great to have a break from academia for a year before diving in to college. The statistics are NOT great. Students who take a gap year tend to end up never going for further education. Upon graduation, they get a job. The job leads to money. Money leads to an apartment, a romance, a new car or a credit card….any or all of which lead to being financially tied to the payments that go along with those things. It is much harder to pack up and move to school if you are planning a wedding, paying for a new car, or signed a lease on an apartment that you can’t afford to break.
Rather than taking a gap year, consider a Career that takes a small amount of education, but will pay far better than flipping burgers. For example, pharmacy tech, vet tech, phlebotomist, and nurses aid certificates all lead to jobs which not only pay well, but may help you earn your way into an even more fulfilling job down the road. There are MANY certificate programs. Check your local Community College to see that vast numbers of choices.
What about APPRENTICESHIPS? They don’t require college, or taking on ANY student debt…but they do require at least a C in Algebra 1. If you took algebra a long time ago, a refresher in algebra might be a place to start. The other thing you need for an apprenticeship? Job shadow the job you are interested in, to find out about their apprenticeship process.
Apprenticeship students are also encouraged to get a job, so that when you apply for the apprenticeship, they can see that you have learned the basics of keeping a job. If you have never had a job, you may fall into behaviors not appropriate to the job: being late, being on your phone, standing around with your hands in your pockets. Working isn’t like high school, but a real job -ANY REAL JOB- will teach what employers expect and help land an apprenticeship. Even if you have to wait for a few years to get the apprenticeship, it is WORTH IT. No student debt, on the job training and entering a field offering huge job opportunities.
I know it seems like Senior Year is stretching out like a L-O-N-G road in front of you, but it is going to go by very quickly. The time to finalize your plan for after high school is NOW. Start those applications now if four year university/college is your plan. Apply to the scholarships at each school you select. Start researching the different kinds of loans so that you understand what they are offering when your Financial Aid Letters start arriving.
Photo credit: Jakub Gorajek via Unsplash